17 April 2017

Finally a chance to use the computer where I have wi-fi, That hasn't happened since we left the Bahamas at the end of March.

Currently we are in Marigot Bay on St.Martin, enjoying French food and pastries at sidewalk cafe's.  Being a holiday weekend we can't do much more until Tuesday.

Spare parts....spares for everything, you are going to need the!  Living aboard full time is hard on gear, add in sailing, rough conditions, salt spray and things wear out faster.  Since October we have replaced or repaired or serviced the following,  keep in mind all items were serviced last summer during our haul out.

-electric bilge pump, replaced
-head, complete service kit for pump
-bow pulpit, re-bolt
-auto pilot, install spare, send original for service
-end for end second reef outhaul, had chafed area at end of boom blocks, been used a lot this winter
-engine belt, replace
-change oil and fuel filters
-replace key and preheat switches on engine
-rebuild manual bilge pump
-watermaker dischage line, replace
-dinghy engine, change oil including lower unit, remove and clean carb twice
-windlass, send to manf. for warrenty service
-snubber line, replace broken one, requiring new thimbles and chain hook

Those are the items I remember, there are probably more, Cruising is hard on gear so spare parts for as many systems as possible need to be carried,  you also need the tools and where applicable the service manuels.

20 February 2017

Georgetown, Great Exuma Island, Bahamas


When I was teaching sailing at Blue Water Sailing School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida I was frequently asked at the end of a course “where can I learn more about, boats, sailing, seamanship and navigation?” 

Great question!  First off “Time on the Water” is the best teacher, only there are you going to get hands on experience in handling a boat in a variety of conditions.  It is only that experience that is going over time to give you the confidence to expand your horizons.
On top of time on the water, read all you can get your hands on.  Sailing Magazines, Books, Videos, and today YouTube, though you must search YouTube for quality videos.  In the near future, I will be doing videos for YouTube, but that is in the future, I will let everyone know when I get that project started.

In the meantime, here is a partial list of books to get you started;
-Chapmans Seamanship and Small Boat Handling.  Commonly referred to as “Chapmans”.  This book should be part of every boaters on board library, it covers most topics quite well and is a wealth of information all boaters need on a daily basis.  The chapters on Weather, Rules of the Road, Charts, Piloting and Coastal Navigation are excellent.

-Any of the books by Lin and Larry Pardey but in particular; Care and Feeding of the Off-shore Crew, Storm Tactics, The Self Sufficient Sailor.

-After 50,000 miles by Hal Roth

-Cruising and Voyaging Under Sail by Eric Hiscock
These last two books by Roth and Hiscock are now decades old but are still relevant, they have a lot to teach about traditional seamanship.  I feel a sound base in Traditional Seamanship is important as Mother Ocean is going to find any weakness that exists in you and your modern boat and it will be Traditional Seamanship skills that will bail you out!

Riggers Apprentice by Brian Toss:  Brian Toss has written several books on Rigging and produced some Videos on the subject. All are worthwhile reads.

Celestial Navigation; For those who wish to learn Celestial Navigation as a back up to GPS or as a method of daily navigation when off-shore, Celestial Navigation in a Nutshell, by Hewitt Schlereth.
There are literally dozens more books available, read all you can on every subject, and read multiple books on any given subject as each will explain the subject in a different manner or have a different technique to handle a given problem.  Use what you find helpful and relevant on your boat, file the rest away in your memory banks for when all else fails.  I rarely find everything I’ve read useful or relevant to my situation, but over the years a lot of odd ball knowledge has been useful in one manner or another.

Practice what you read! Get out on the water and practice until your boat handling skills become second nature.  Whether it be reefing, day or night, anchoring, recovering an anchor, Man Overboard Recovery, Traditional Navigation or any of hundreds of other skills, practice, sometimes with a book in the cockpit open to the subject, and more practice is what will give you the confidence to eventually expand your horizons.

17 February 2017

Georgetown, Great Exuma, Bahamas

Lessons from an Old Salt

Today’s lesson comes from recent experience, as in yesterday.  For the last month or so I have been looking for 30’ of 3/8” anchor chain I once had on board stowed in a 5-gallon bucket that was kept in the chain locker.
Recently I decided to move it and in the process not only did I remove it from the bucket which went in the trash but I didn’t make note in the inventory of where I put the chain! Now you wouldn’t think a pile of chain of this size and weight would be very easy to lose but I did.  On the day I stowed it away in its new home I was rearranging the way I stowed my second anchor rode as it had been in a very inconvenient place.  Not so inconvenient to get out and use but very difficult to stow away again after use.  So, I moved it and in the process moved the chain to a new home and forgot it. (at the time it seemed like a pretty obvious place to stow chain)
We have gone through every cabin, locker and storage space on board looking for that chain.  No luck until yesterday. 
With a front approaching and the wind increasing we found ourselves with a lee shore behind us.  Wanting to let out more scope on our primary anchor required us to re-anchor further from shore.  In the process we used more chain than we have in quite some time and uncovered the missing chain!  Just in time to guarantee a peaceful night’s sleep with a second hook set off the bow. 
Lesson here, always, and I mean always, list the stowage location of every single item you bring aboard in a log book.  We keep a pretty good inventory but we still occasionally lose things or need to look in the inventory to see where we stowed something.  It is very frustrating when you know you have something on board but can’t find it.  Now if I can just find those two lengths of stainless steel all thread I brought aboard in December!

13 February 2017

Georgetown, Great Exuma, Bahamas

Lessons from an Old Salt: Preventive Maintenance-Hoses, Hose Clamps and Seacocks
A common failure point and one that can have disastrous consequences is Hose failure.  Whether the hose is carrying water, fuel, or propane, a leaking hose can have disastrous results.

Regardless of your boats age, but those boats that are over 10 years old need to have a through inspection of all hoses, hose clamps and seacocks. Plus every seacock should have a tapered wooden plug secured nearby just in case the seacock cannot be closed for any reason.

When replacing hoses it is imperative that the proper hose be used for a given application.  I have seen plastic water line used as a gas line, the gas was dissolving the plastic and freely running into the bilge. The gas oder was overwhelming inside the boat and if anyone had turned on a pump or a light and caused a spark there would have been a very large explosion!  USE THE PROPER HOSE!

Hoses are clearly marked as to their application, if in doubt as the clerks at the Chandler and they will direct you to the correct hose for your application.  Yes sometimes one hose that will do the job will be cheaper than another hose built specifically for the job but in the long run you won't be happy with the results.

A case in point, white, smooth bore, oder proof head hose is more expensive than say wire bound black rubber.  The black rubber line will do the job but won't be as resistant to oder permutation. Spending a few extra dollars on the hose built to keep oders down in the head/holding tank area is well worth the investment.

Another point to keep in mind is just because you have one type of hose currently being used in an application does not mean it is the correct hose to use for replacement.  When your boat was built or the hose was last replaced it may have been the correct type of hose but since then new hoses have come out that are a better fit for the application.  Again as at the Chandler for the correct hose for the application.

Another case in point.  At one time many propane systems were supplied with copper lines.  Today copper for a propane line is a no no.  Both the ABYC and the American Fire Protection Association outlaw it for the purpose.  In this situation there are good rubber hoses available from your local Chandler and even better tougher made hoses available from Airquip.  These later hoses will cost you more but will give you a higher piece of mind when it comes to possible chafe and leaks.

Hose Clamps also need inspection.  Any seacock or hose leading overboard, particularly those below the water line must be double clamped.  Hose clamp failure particularly in the lower grade hose clamps is pretty common.  Fortunately hoses usually don't just pop off the seacock when a hose clamp fails as once clamped for any length of time hoses tend to meld onto the tail piece and are a devil to remove.

Again as with hoses there are different grades of Hose Clamps.  Those you purchase cheaply at the AutoParts store have a Stainless Steel Band but a mild steel bolt and bolt carrier.  The next grade up will be labeled all Stainless Steel but is of 304 or 308 stainless and will eventually corrode and fail or at the very least be a devil to loosen.  The third grade available at Marine Chandlers is built of type 316 stainless steel throughout and while more expensive will last many months to years longer than any of the rest.  Well worth the investment.

When it comes to hoses and clamps it is difficult to carry the right extra hose for any application, There are just too many types of hoses used on board and frankly most won't need replacing very often.  On the other hand I do carry an assortment of smaller size hoses and seem to find uses for them from time to time.   Hose Clamps on the other hand I keep a large selection of all sizes available as I still have a lot of older style clamps on board and from time to time one needs replacing, plus hose clamps of all sizes are handy for quick repairs and jury rig repairs.

When it comes to seacocks, they need to be inspected each time you haul out and should all be cycled open an closed at least once a month to keep them from getting sticky.  If you have the older type seacocks with a tapered barrel it is imperative to remove the at your annual haulout, clean and grease them to keep them functioning easily.

It hasn't happended very often but I have seen thru hulls fail at the interface of the seacock and hull. Failures have always been from Galvanic Corrosion and none showed any evidence of failure before failing as the failure point was under what looked like a well secured seacock... If you have seacocks with a flange base that has holes in it for through bolts and they are not through bolted to the hull do so.  Once through bolted if a thru hull does fail the seacock will remain in place and not become a raging fountain of water!

On that note keep this little tidbit of information in your head, it will give you incentive to inspect your hoses, clamps and seacocks on regular basis.

A 1.5" hole 4' below the waterline will admit 100 gallons of water every minute, increasing as the boat sinks lower in the water and the hydrostatic head increases!

07 February 2017

Black Point Settlement, Exuma Cays, Bahamas

We arrived here in Black Point on Friday.  Thursday we stopped to visit the Swimming Pigs on Big Majors Spot.  That is always an entertaining event watching tourists from the resorts try and feed the pigs.  Some of them run several hundred pounds and get a bit pushy when it comes to free handouts.

The sail from Nassau into the Exumas itself was relatively uneventful.  Nice easterly winds across the Exuma Banks whose water is so clear you can clearly see starfish in 20' of water.  With the prevailing easterly trade winds sailing south on the Exuma Bank with the islands to windward is sailing at it's best.  Smooth seas, warm winds at 12 knots or so doesn't get much better.

That said our 8 mile sail from Big Major Spot was a little trying.  Rain squalls stole our wind or let us have wind from the wrong direction, in the end we motored to Black Point in moderate rain. But the holding here is good, lots of boats, good food ashore, lots of people at Loraines for Super Bowl.

We will be here till Thursday then off to Georgetown Exuma for a few weeks.

There is a saying amongst the cruising community that "cruising is the art of fixing your boat in exotic location".  Well there is a lot of truth in that statement.  If you are thinking off heading off for remote locations, and yes the Bahamas are a remote location, where repair shops, technicians and parts are few and far between you need to have the tools and parts to fix things that break.

In the past two weeks we've broken our Chain Snubber, Replaced a broken belt on the engine, Recharged the refer system, removed and cleaned the carburetor from the outboard, replaced a broken keeper ring on our boom vang snap shackle.

  Fortunately we had spare cans of 134A for the refer, several spare belts for the engine and a spare line to use for a chain snubber until we can find another 3/8" chain hook, a ss thimble and a new shackle to replace the ones we lost.  We carry a full set of both SAE and Metric wrenches and sockets so disassembling the carburetor and cleaning out the gunk that had collected there was relatively painless, surprisingly the outboard started right up after reassembly.  As we have a large collection of cotter rings and pins a new one for the snap shackle was at hand, the surprising thing here was we didn't lose the spring when the ring fell off allowing the locking pin to also fall out.

Some years ago my mentor Wes Hoch told me that learning how things worked was more important than learning how to fix things as knowing how things work naturally leads into having an idea of what needs fixing when a failure occurs.  He was right, he could have also added knowing how things work will give you an idea of what parts might need replacing periodically and thus give you an idea of what to carry for spare parts.

You will also need the best tool set you can buy,  that doesn't mean you need to spend thousands on a Snap On tool set when a set of Craftsmen or Napa tools will do.  But you need a full set, not just for engine repairs but for rigging, electrical system, to repair the head and your outboard.

When it comes to engine repairs and service hire your local mechanic to teach you how to change a belt or do an oil change, how to bleed your engine.  Don't let him do the work, you do it with his supervision and learn how hands on.  You can do the same with electrical problems and rigging.  There are no secrets the various trades what to keep hidden, its just no one ever asks how.  Ask. Pay if necessary but learn.  Your future voyage will go smoother with less stress!

30 January 2017

Bimini to Nassau via The Berry Islands

26 Jan cleared out of Bimini Harbor at 0930 to cross the Great Bahama Bank, our first problem was to avoid running aground on Mackie Shoal at sandbar just beyond halfway across The Banks.  As we would reach Mackie Shoal just before dark our plan was to anchor there for the night then continue east to NW Channel in the morning.

However the wind instead of laying down continued to build and along with it the seas.  About 2230 the anchor chain snubber broke with a bang that sounded like the boom hitting the deck.  I was able to secure another snubber but it was apparent conditions weren't good for getting any more sleep so we got underway and set a new course for Little Stirrup Cay at the north end of the Berry Islands.  In this direction there was plenty of deep water without hazards, the wind was on the beam so it was a comfortable sail.

We reached Little Stirrup by dawn, sailed around the northern end of the Berry's then headed south to Devils-Hoffman anchorage between Devils and Hoffman Cays.  This is one of the prettiest anchorages in the Berry group with room for a dozen boats or more.  The weather here wasn't conducive to swimming so no snorkeling on the reefs but still plenty of wildlife about such as turtles, an Spotted Eagle Ray that kept jumping clear out of the water, and the largest Barracuda I've ever seen.  We did manage a hike to see the Blue Hole in the center of Hoffmans Cay.

On Sunday morning we got underway for Spanish Wells about 45nm east.  However that was not to be our days destination, just one of several as the weather changed pretty quickly as the day progressed.  First the wind headed us so we changed our destination to Rose Island where we could anchor on the south side of the island in Bottom Harbor, that wasn't going to happen either as by 1400  it was blowing F5G6 (20k gusting 26+) and pouring rain with little visibility.  After the rain squalls left the wind built into the mid 20's and stayed there rom the north.  Not good news to make the narrow pass thru the reef at Rose Island especially with an out going tide!  We held our course until we were within three miles when another squall hit and we again changed course west to go around New Providence Island to anchor.

That last change of course ment another 18nm and a possible after dark or just before dark arrival, not a good idea in a place with no AIDS to Navigation let along any with lights!  As we approached Nassau Harbor the wind lightened a little and we again changed course to enter Nassau,  with the wind down the entrance wasn't as rough as expected and we safely entered, anchoring just past the cruise ship terminal.

So our Bahama experience this year has gotten off to a bit of a rocky start, but with a weather forecast for pleasant easterly trade winds for the next week things should improve.

Lesson 2
Frequently your days plans are not going to go as you had planned.  Thus it is important you one have a back up plan, don't be afraid to change your destination for a more comfortable and maybe safer one.  That leads to what about telling people such as other cruisers where you are going, not really a good idea.  At least not a good idea to be two specific.  If we had told other cruisers who were also going to Spanish Wells that we were going there to and then never arrived and in the process of changing our days destination not able to communicate that change they would have been worried and possibly reported us as overdue.  So in general I may tell someone the general idea of where I'm going but usually not a specific place.

What's important about our multiple change of plans was we had several choices based on wind direction for anchorages that were protected from the prevailing strong winds.  As each became unreadable we still options.  If we had run out of options for safe harbor then I would have altered course to get as much sea room as possible and then once safely far enough offshore hove to for the night.  While that option would have been uncomfortable, cold and wet it would have been preferable to the alternative of trying to force a passage across a breaking reef passage and injuring someone, breaking the boat or possibly losing the boat altogether

25 January 2017

Passage to Bimini Bahamas and Introducing "Lessons from an Old Salt"

Finally after multipule delays, non weather related, we had a weather window allowing East Bound travel out of Florida for the Bahamas.  Winds were forecast to be 15-20 westerly with seas to 5', both wind and seas were forecast to lay down to under 10 knots and less than 2' by dawn.

In an attempt to avoid negotiating the Old Cape Florida Channel in the dark we departed Hurricane Harbor at 1730.  As it turns out that wasn't quite soon enough but it got us through the unlit portion along the west side of Key Biscayne from No Name Harbor South to the marked channel.

Marked is a relative term in this case.  There are suppose to be three sets of lit markers.  We entered the channel at Red "8" and turned east for Green "5".  The only green flashing marker we could see had a time sequence that was close to right, but not quite.  There was plenty of water on the chart around the marks so we steered toward the only green flashing buoy we could see.

As it turns out we had a bit of a scare.  Green "5" was lit but the flasher was broken so it appeared as a Green Running Light on a sailboat.  It was even elevated enough to appear to be a masthead Tri-color light.  Wrong!  I went right to honor the "Green Running Light" only to discover at the last second it was our Green "5" now passing us on the wrong side of the boat.  Good thing it wasn't placed right on the edge of the reef or we would have been hard aground.

Now with only one marker left in front of us we were able to safely make our way down the rest of the channel into the relatively wide and at this point hazard free mouth of the Hawk Channel that runs along the ocean side of the Florida Keys.  Once clear of the Old Cape Florida Channel we set a course for our point of departure Fowey Rocks light.

Once we reached Fowey Rocks we fell off for Bimini with the wind on our Starboard Quarter requireing I set the whisker pole.  That done (thank god for LED spreader lights that turn night into day) Malaya's motion settled down into a lopsided roll but less snappy than without the pole.  Lopsided because we had seas from directly behind from our westerly wind and left over energy swells from some storm at sea.  So with seas at cross purposes we rolled along quite happily at 5 knots for Bimini.

As predicted as the night wore on wind and seas both fell until 0400 found us 5 miles outside of Bimini Harbor with little wind to hold us steady Hove To and just enough seaway to roll us around uncomfortably.  But no choice, Bimini Harbor unlike most Bahamian Harbors may have buoys but they are not lit and with hard reefs and sandbars lining both sides of the channel it is no place to attempt a night entrance, chart plotter or no chart plotter!  So we rolled about until sunrise at 0700 and then slowly proceeded towards the harbor entrance.

Unlike my last trip to Bimini in April of this past year, there are now buoys lining the channel all the way to the harbor proper.  Interesting as passage into Bimini in years past was a case of read the water colors to stay in the channel.  Sorta takes all the fun out of entering with the channel marked!

By 0900 we were secure to a dock, ready to clear customs and immigration, take a shower and get a nap in.  Tomorrow we will be heading further east across the Bahama Bank for the Exuma Chain of Islands.

Now I would like to introduce "Lessons from an Old Salt" where I will attempt through the written word, pictures and videos to pass on the lessons I've learned over the past 40 years of building, repairing and sailing boats.

So Lesson "1":  Water Color for Navigation

Cruising in the tropics it is important for one to be able to read the depths based on the color of the water as there are just not very many buoys around to mark hazards!

In the photo at the right the water is all one uniform color, the day is overcast, there is no sun to penetrate the depths to color the water.

                                                                                In the photo to the left, the sun is shining, it is high in the sky and behind the photographer.  It is thus "coloring the water" so we can see the different depths an ha.zards

In the near fore ground the water is very light blue and even a bit sandy indicating little water.  Of to the right just above the cloud shadow is a brown patch indicating a hard shallow bottom such as a reef, in the back ground near the trees and beach the water is a deep blue indicating deep safe water.

While this appears to be a difficult skill and worries most skippers who are new to the tropics it is really quite easy to learn.  Just remember always have the sun high and behind you!  In reality it also means east bound travel into or out of harbors and channels in the afternoons and west bound travel in the mornings.  What more excuse do you need to stay in a beautiful harbor or just sail a few miles along the coast to another beautiful anchorage.  Just tell the crew that's in a hurry its the suns fault!